Bears-Panthers preview Panthers ball

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Bears-Panthers preview Panthers ball

If something seems to be too good to be true, it often painfully is, particularly in apparent sports mismatches. USA vs. USSR hockey 1980. Michigan-Appalachian State. Tyson-Douglas.
Bears 2012 defense vs. 2012 Cam Newton.
The Bears field the NFLs best scoring defense, both at preventing other peoples (13 points per game, seven or fewer in three of six games) and doing it themselves (five defensive TDs). The Carolina Panthers are 28th in scoring.
No team has taken the ball away from opposing offenses more than the Bears (21). Only four teams have a worse turnover ratio than the Panthers minus-6
Whither the run?
The thing the Panthers purport and are built to do best is run the ball. But they have match the millions invested in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams with anything resembling a coherent offensive philosophy or even game plans.
Newton has taken the heaviest criticism for offensive failures. But in the five-point loss to Dallas last Sunday, Panthers running backs carried a total of 15 times, even with Carolina leading through most of the fourth quarter.
In the four-point loss to Seattle, Carolinas three running backs had a total of 11 carries in game where the Panthers took a lead early in the third quarter.
Curiously, the Panthers see to be in some sort of denial.
For the most part, weve handed the ball off an awful lot to those two guys Stewart and Williams,said coach Ron Rivera. I think what we do people dont get as well. A lot of the things we did last year we had success with and this year and people have changed and adapted to what we do, and were trying to adapt as well, so we stay a step ahead.
Weve had some things weve struggled with, obviously, and there are some things we want to get back to.
If the Panthers move to get back to their run game, the Bears will be waiting. They are second in run defense (71.3 yards per game), which has forced teams to become one-dimensional, and that has led to turnovers.
Smith wild card
The Panthers may follow form and come at the Bears primarily with one weapon that has done severe damage to Chicago in the past: wide receiver Steve Smith.
Smith has caught 34 passes in three games against the Bears, beginning with the 2005 regular season, the 2005 divisional playoff and finally last season.
He's a smaller guy but he plays big, said cornerback Charles Tillman, who won his matchup against Detroits Calvin Johnson last Monday but is likely to have duties other than Smith, expected to be shadowed by Tim Jennings. He's a nightmare to defenses, and this will be another good matchup for this defense.
But the Bears won two of those three games, and Rivera was the Bears defensive coordinator in the first two. The defense would be more than fine with Smith getting his 11 or so catches; theyll take the win.
Every coverage has been tried against him, said coach Lovie Smith. But you have to have a plan for him, and we do.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

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AP

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Jamal Mayers discuss the bottom six carrying the Blackhawks to a come-from-behind win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

Later, Mayers weighs in on possible targets with the NHL trade deadline just six weeks away.

Listen to the latest episode of the Hawks Talk Podcast below:

Pro Football Focus gives Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman historical 2016 grade

Pro Football Focus gives Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman historical 2016 grade

Bears GM Ryan Pace struck gold with his signing of Jerrell Freeman last offseason.

Freeman, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Bears last March, was graded as the NFL's No. 1 inside linebacker in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.

Freeman's 93.8 overall grade was PFF's third-highest defensive grade behind Los Angeles Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald (95.6) and Oakland Raiders standout edge rusher Khalil Mack (93.9). 

Here's what PFF's Mike Renner had to say about Freeman's historic 2016 season:

One of the most impressive pure statistics any player amassed this season came from Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman. He made 40 tackles in coverage while missing only one tackle attempt. That ratio is insane, and it’s the best we’ve recorded since 2012. That’s about the only exciting stat, though, as the Bears’ front-seven desperately missed a fully-healthy Pernell McPhee for a good portion of the year.

Despite Freeman's outstanding season, he was left off of PFF's All-Pro Team for 2016. Although he was ranked ahead of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (91.6) and Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (92.9), PFF likely omitted Freeman due to him missing four games with a PED suspension.

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In his first season with the Bears, the 30-year-old Freeman led the team with 110 tackles (the next highest total was Harold Jones-Quartey's 78). Freeman also finished with a team-high 7 tackles for a loss. 

Check out a snapshot below of Freeman's PFF metrics from last season:

If there's any doubt about Freeman's play falling off after serving a suspension, he put that theory to rest. Freeman's second-best game grade came in Week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings (3.5). Freeman also had a positive grade (1.4) in his first game coming off the suspension against the Washington Redskins in Week 16.

"People know me," Freeman told the media after returning from suspension. "People know who I am. People know what I'm about. I wouldn't do that on purpose. I made a mistake and that's what it is. It's not like I was going out of my way to do something (illegal). But it happened. It's my fault and I take responsibility for it."